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Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Not another diatribe against commercialism...

by Barnabas
December 24, 2003

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Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas_Barnabas-Not another diatribe against commercialism
“A survey of 750 Dutch adults made public late on Wednesday showed that 26 per cent of respondents did not know which Biblical story was commemorated at Christmas. Six per cent named an event other that the birth of Jesus Christ.

“The poll remarkably revealed that even Christians do not always know the origin of Christmas. Some 29 per cent of Protestants polled pointed to the wrong Biblical story, while 26 per cent of Roman Catholics did not think of the birth of Jesus.

“Among the non-religious, 35 per cent could not say why Christmas was celebrated.”

—Agence France-Presse, The Hague, December 18
Christmas has always been a Christian holiday for me, but until I was a young adult I was in churches that did not worship on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day unless one of them fell on Sunday. We got all of that out of the way on the Sunday before. But when I was a very young adult I fell in with Scandinavians for whom Christmas was not complete without worship on at least one of those days. Since then I have known Lutheran clergy, with large memberships and small buildings, who conduct worship almost continuously from 4:00 p.m. Christmas Eve until late morning on Christmas Day. For most of my life, preparation for Christmas in church, at home, in school, and at work has made “it look a lot like Christmas” for several weeks before Christmas Eve —which technically is not even yet “the first day of Christmas” for those who care about such things.

We happen to live in the top quarter of the globe, not far from the line that runs equidistant between the equator and the North Pole. In pop culture, this gives us an advantage; we almost never have to dream of a white Christmas. I have the additional advantage of living in the open country; so if anyone has the opportunity to reflect on the appearance of Christmas, I suppose I do. We live on the floor of a shallow valley. On days like today, and we have many of them, I look upon a Christmas card from any side of the house—snow covering every square inch of open ground for a half-mile in three directions, up to the crest of shallow hills; immediately behind the house, tall, dense evergreens that hold their snow for days after its fall reach back for a mile or so. Less than a hundred yards to the left stands a white, steepled church; and in front of that the county highway curves south. Several times a week we look out to see a closed Amish buggy, black against the snow, taking the curve at the gentle, steady trot of the beautiful horse pulling it. Sometimes when the house is still, we hear the rhythmic clip-clop of its hooves on the pavement. (They really do sound like “clip-clop.”)

Many homes both on the road to town and in town are extensively decorated with lights. And when we get to our little mall, the shoppers are rushing home with their treasures, just as in “Silver Bells.” So if this is what Christmas looks like, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here. I don’t happen to be in a company-dinner or office-party milieu, but for those who are, I suspect they also “look a lot like Christmas.”

We know these things have nothing to do with Christmas as such, but with the fact that so many northern Europeans settled the northern side of North America, and they brought their celebratory customs with them. Even the snow is nostalgic. There’s nothing wrong with that, except when we impose it on people who have never seen it or felt it. Snow is yet another symbol added to Christmas; we have so many that they have lost their power to signify—even the carols written to celebrate and proclaim the Christian gospel are often no more than background noise. How can your heart process “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” when it is followed immediately by “Santa Baby”?

I said that this is not a diatribe against the commercialism of Christmas. Instead, I lay before you the thesis that loss of faith came first, and the stores and catalogs stepped in to fill the meaning gap that its loss created.

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